Published: 10:51, 03 December 2020
| Updated: 10:53, 03 December 2020
A survey of 34 outlets carried out by Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council (TMBC) found that while 12 per cent said business was ‘good’, 53 per cent said the impact of lockdown and other restrictions could mean the shutters coming down permanently in 2021.
The results were announced as non-essential shops geared up to reopen yesterday and TMBC launched a campaign encouraging people to shop local this festive season.
Teresa Seamer, owner of boutique gift store Gorgeous George in Tonbridge High Street, says people were already doing their Christmas shopping when her shutters closed during the second lockdown.
"Independents have been left behind. All of the non-essential retailers have been shut down, where as all of the massive shops who sell everything we sell and then say they're essential because they've got an aisle of food have been open, it has been absolutely devastating.
"What we are hoping is that everyone hasn't already done their Christmas shopping," Mrs Seamer, 55, said, speaking before her shop reopened.
While a £25,000 government grant during the first lockdown was extremely helpful, financial support this time round hasn't been so generous.
The shop has a website but the overall takings during the second lockdown represent what Mrs Seamer makes from people visiting her shop in just three days.
She has had to cut her staff and now she and the bookkeeper are the only workers, managing every aspect of the business and working long hours.
Asked whether she think her business will survive into next year, the mum-of-two said: "I think I will be fine, I have got rid of all my overheads, I have been left £35,000 in debt because I have had to get a loan to pay rent and bills. I've never been in debt before."
The cash that is reserved to get them through the quiet months post-Christmas has severely depleted.
Despite the bleak picture, Mrs Seamer is excited to welcome her customers back and start playing Christmas tunes in her shop.
"I'm feeling negative at the moment because the shop's not open and I'm thinking what's the point in working so hard to stand still, but we have got to try and keep positive."
Martin Wilde Jewellers, a family run business which has been in West Malling for 31 years, closed their shop like so many others during the lockdown. Fortunately, enough orders had already come in to keep Mr Wilde, 62, busy.
But, his daughter, Lian Steell 35, stressed that Christmas is still an important time.
"Yes we should have our collections but we really need December for selling our stock, so it's important to be open and trading."
"People come to us because we are a family run business, we have been here such a long time, people love to come here and listen to our lives. They get a personal service and there's no pressure from us," she added.
The coffers may be depleted but the future of the Mill Yard business is secure. However other retailers haven't been so fortunate.
Claire Rees, from Flowers by Enchantment, in Tonbridge, said: "It's quite surprising how many didn't reopen after the first lockdown, some of them are quite big names as well."
"It's tough, it's really hard, we have got to adapt to try and make sure people don't forget us."
She added: "It's easy to jump on Amazon, we are all guilty of it, let's face it, but I think now more than ever your small businesses have been here, working behind the scenes throughout the pandemic, now's the time where actually you can just put a little bit back towards them, that would be really great."
TMBC Leader, Nicolas Heslop, said: "Having endured two lockdowns and a surge in online shopping, it’s hardly surprising that many smaller stores are struggling.
"Independent retailers are the lifeblood of our towns and village centres and significant closures would be a tragedy, not just for them and their staff but also for the wider community which benefit from their unique contribution to life in our borough.
"We hope people hear our message that even if you plan to do much of your Christmas shopping online this year, making a conscious decision to shop locally as well could be a lifeline for many of these stores."
In the survey, the biggest factors affecting business were a lack of spending on high streets and in village centres and competition from online retailers.
The council's campaign to get people to shop local will include promotions on social media, highlighting the range of range of seasonal goods and services available from independent retailers, special offers and loyalty card schemes to help cut the cost of Christmas shopping.
The campaign is the latest step by the council to support businesses across the borough. Since March it has distributed a total of £24m in grants to more than 300 firms and from this week will be employing ‘Covid marshals’ to provide reassurance to shoppers.